“US Country Report: A True Reflection, or…”

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Qamar Bashir

By Qamar Bashir

Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs promptly rejected the US Department of State’s 120-page “2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Pakistan” without acknowledging its comprehensive compilation process where the source of almost all necessary data rests in Pakistan. The compilation involves gathering data from embassy and consulate reports, local NGOs, media coverage, government agencies, international organizations, academic institutions, testimonies, diplomatic channels, official government reports, and open-source intelligence. The report aims to provide a thorough and accurate assessment of human rights conditions in Pakistan indicating a failure to address shortcomings.

Rather than addressing issues and implementing reforms, Pakistan tends to respond with generic statements disconnected from reality which is shortsighted, as baseless rejection only draws more attention to the report’s contents, prompting further scrutiny. Pakistan’s tendency to ignore issues and reject criticism perpetuates poor human rights practices rather than fostering improvement.

“There is nothing in the report that has not been discussed almost on a daily basis by our courts, political parties, civil society, and both traditional and social media. Our media and civil society, day in and day out, in their reports, comments, and analyses, discuss, refer to, and quote, rightly or wrongly, all those issues, matters, and incidents which were referred to in the report. These include unlawful or arbitrary detentions and  killings, including extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearances; torture; and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or non state actors.”

“They discuss harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for alleged offenses by a relative; and serious abuses in conflict, including reportedly unlawful civilian deaths and enforced disappearances.

The elite journalists and opposition political parties have raised concerns about significant restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom. These include violence against journalists, unjustified arrests, and disappearances of journalists, as well as censorship and serious constraints on internet freedom. Additionally, there are substantial interferences with the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, including overly restrictive laws governing the operation of non-governmental organizations and civil society groups.

The media and civil society have been vocal about issues such as restrictions on religious freedom, coerced or forced returns of individuals to countries where they may face torture or persecution, government corruption, and government restrictions on both domestic and international human rights organizations. They have also highlighted extensive gender-based violence, including domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and child and early forced marriage.

Media reports also suggest physical abuse of criminal suspects in custody, leading to injuries or deaths. Besides, lengthy trial delays at both the commencement and conclusion of trials, along with the failure to adequately investigate, discipline, and prosecute those responsible for killings, have contributed to a culture of impunity.

Our media is full of reports that there is a significant increase in attacks against police and security forces. According to the independent think tank Center for Research and Security Studies, there were at least 386 reported deaths of police and military personnel in terrorist attacks and counterterror operations during the first three quarters of the year. The number of attacks and casualties were higher than in 2022 or 2021.

However, they may not realize that these commentaries and analyses are being recorded, compiled, and reported upon by human rights watchdogs around the world, including those in the US reflecting negatively on our human rights record.”

The impugned report comprehensively cataloged a multitude of incidents, events, and statements with detailed dates, names, and qualifications forming its foundation. Noteworthy examples include the killing of seven Shia Muslims, including four teachers, in Upper Kurram, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on May 4, apparently in retaliation for the earlier killing of a Sunni Muslim; a suicide bombing in Mastung, Balochistan, on September 29, which claimed the lives of at least 60 individuals during a religious procession; and an attack by Tehreek-e-Jihad on Pakistan Air Force Training Base M.M. Alam in Mianwali, Punjab, resulting in the deaths of nine militant attacks on November 4.

Ironically, instead of addressing these issues, there was a tendency to blame rating agencies for using inaccurate data, ignoring the fact that much of the data originates from within our own country, often from government sources.

During my tenure as Joint Secretary, I compiled a comprehensive report on all international ratings, rankings, and indexes, revealing a dismal picture of our nation’s neglect, lethargy, aimless governance, and widespread lawlessness. It underscored the multitude of challenges we faced, including multiple power centers, injustice, economic stagnation, and social degradation.

Surprisingly, the government at that time took my report seriously. It was shared with the Prime Minister and other key government figures, who instructed me to develop a robust plan of action to improve our international ratings and rankings. I diligently crafted such a plan, which was subsequently shared with the higher echelons of the government. The national security advisor was entrusted with leading the implementation of this plan, and I was tasked with briefing him on the report and the proposed strategy.

However, as fate would have it, the government was dissolved before any significant progress could be made. Sadly, this scenario mirrored the fate of similar plans throughout Pakistan’s history—promising initiatives often succumbing to the tide of political change, leaving crucial reforms languishing on the shelf.

It is imperative that reports by the US statement department and such other reports reflecting our national performance and responsibilities are thoroughly reviewed and referred to relevant committees of the National Assembly and Senate for in-depth analysis. These committees should scrutinize the reports meticulously, identifying any inaccuracies in the data and bringing them to the attention of the rating agencies for clarification or amendment.

Furthermore, these committees should establish robust collaboration with the focal persons of rating agencies in Pakistan, providing them with accurate and reliable data to ensure the integrity of subsequent reports. If the data and analysis in the report are found to be accurate, the committees should then formulate a comprehensive plan of action to address the shortcomings highlighted.

Rather than blaming the mirror, we must have the courage to acknowledge the reflections it presents and strive to ensure that what the mirror reflects is indeed a true representation of our nation’s beauty and charm. This approach fosters accountability and facilitates proactive measures to enhance our national performance and reputation.

By Qamar Bashir

Former Press Secretary to the President

Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France

Former MD, SRBC